Assessing the Vulnerability of Irish Rail Network Earthworks

Karlo Martinović, Kenneth Gavin, Cormac Reale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (SciVal)


The Irish Rail network was largely constructed in the mid-1800s. As a result of this, a significant proportion of the network is comprised of aged cuttings and embankments the construction of which predate modern design standards. Although most of the networks have remained stable for over a hundred and fifty years, a significant proportion of the network has slope angles in excess of those recommended in current design standards. Climate change predictions expect increased rainfall levels across Europe that will deteriorate these slopes further and increase incidence of failure. Current practice when populating earthwork asset databases is to conduct a technical walkover survey. Data obtained in this way is susceptible to bias errors and involve subjective approximations. This is particularly evident in slope geometry attributes such as slope height and angle. Remote sensing data is able to improve precision while reducing bias substantially, while being a much faster alternative than visual assessments on a network scale. Having precise and reliable data over the entire network is a fundamental prerequisite when conducting relative risk assessments of assets. In this paper, post-processed findings from an airborne LiDAR survey of the entire Irish Rail network are presented and compared to walkover assessment data. The current state of assets will also be discussed in light of modern design codes, together with the implications on infrastructure performance. Slope vulnerability to shallow planar type failures is expected to increase with predicted changes in climate such as increased environmental loading (rainfall events are predicted to be more intense and of longer duration, with longer dry periods in between). This type of failure is already the dominant failure mode across Irish Rail network. Typically these failures are instigated by rainwater percolating into the slope to a given depth, filling available pore space thus reducing in-situ soil suctions. This in turn reduces the shear strength of the soil. When the percolating water reaches some critical depth failure occurs. Fragility curves, a particular type of asset vulnerability assessment, provide a connection between triggering actions (such as rainfall) and expected damage to infrastructure assets. They can therefore be potentially useful in estimating a slope's response to predicted future climate loading. An example of a fragility curve applied to a typical slope on the Irish Rail network is presented in this paper.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1904-1913
Number of pages10
JournalTransportation research procedia
Early online date27 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2016


  • fragility curves
  • hazard assessment
  • Rail network
  • rainfall induced landslides
  • remote sensing
  • vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Transportation


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